Oliver turned his gaze from the obelisk in New Orleans’ Chalmette National Historical Park and cocked his head at Wilson. “You seem tense.”
Wilson sighed and shook his head. “Sorry. I just…” But what could he say that wouldn’t sound paranoid? “It’s nothing.”
One perfectly groomed eyebrow quirked skyward. Oliver said only one word. “Oh?” But the glint in his eye added, “Honesty is the best policy.” Which was something they’d had a whole discussion about before moving in together.
“Well, you know…” Wilson shuffled his feet then glanced around to make sure nobody was within hearing distance. “It’s just that I’ll never be able to approach my articles with the same I-know-this-is-utter-bullshit-but-I’ll-write-an-interesting-and-respectful-story attitude I had before meeting you and your…uh…people in Tallbear.”
For all he knew, he might’ve spoken to Yeti shifters, too, when the tabloid he wrote for, Sensational News (Never Fake, We Swear!), sent him to the Himalayas last year to research an article. This week the features editor, Jerry, had sent him here to New Orleans to come up with a story on vampires. His boyfriend/partner, Oliver, freelanced so he’d tagged along so they could do touristy things during Wilson’s downtime.
“Ah.” Oliver smirked, but it didn’t mask his involuntary shiver. “Yeah, before you asked about it last year, I hadn’t thought too much about the possibility since we’d never heard of other kinds of shifters, let alone different paranormal creatures, but good point. Bigfoots exist, so why not vampires?”
“On the plus side, if they do exist—and that’s a big if—they’re not like vamps in books and movies. It’s not as if there are a lot of unexplained blood-drained bodies showing up, so I don’t think they pose a danger to humans. If anything, much of the lore is crap, and they’re secretive but have otherwise assimilated into our society.”
“And yet you’re still tense.” Oliver flipped back a few strands of his well-glittered hair that’d fallen across his eyes. “Did you find something?”
“Not really.” Wilson shugged. “I just got to thinking about which bits of lore would have to be true—like consuming blood—since that pretty much defines what vampires are. Probably also the immortality thing, otherwise if vampirism is some affliction people could randomly catch like a virus, and there weren’t organized immortals taking people in when they caught it, or were deliberately turned, or whatever, then vampires would be commonly known.”
“So I figured, if—IF—they exist, they’re organized. At least these days. And other bits of random lore may or may not have come about from possible misinterpretations of behavior in olden times.”
“Still makes sense.” Oliver nodded. “So what’s making you so antsy like you’re ready to jump out of your soggy new socks?”
Wilson grinned. Oliver was referencing an incident from their earlier visit to the Mardi Gras Fountain. Long story short, they’d fallen victim to an impromptu water fight between some kids, Wilson’s new pride-themed socks had gotten soaked, then after he’d wrung them out, he’d accidentally stepped in some loose dirt before putting his shoes back on.
“More like muddy new socks.” Wilson winked. “But no, I didn’t actually find anything. I also figured they probably weren’t holding a bunch of people captive, feeding them and feeding off them. Over time, they’d surely be discovered. If they exist, they’re probably hiding in plain sight like you Bigfoots.”
“Nice. I could get behind the existence of benevolent vamps.”
“So yesterday, I visited blood banks to interview people about their processes. Because they’d still need blood, right, or they wouldn’t be vampires?”
“Right. But you didn’t find anything suspicious?”
“No. But, I didn’t really expect to. Even if it’s true that vampires exist and they’ve infiltrated blood banks, nothing would be obviously out of whack.”
“So I’ve had a weird feeling like I’m being watched since then.”
“I know. I’m being stupid and paranoid for no good reason because I’m not even going to pursue the potential reality of vampires for my article because outing any paranormal creatures pretty much opens up the potential for outing them all, and I wouldn’t do that to you. Besides, my interviews with the people claiming to have been bitten will make a more interesting article.”
A corner of Oliver’s mouth twitched up as if maybe he’d picked up on how Wilson had pointedly made that little speech for the benefit of any potentially listening vampires. But he didn’t address that, and instead asked, “So there are people who’ve been bitten?”
“Not by real vampires. That was easily debunked. Jerry probably won’t let me point that out in the article, though, since people who’ve been embarrassed in our stories are more likely to sue. They wouldn’t win, but it would still cost money.”
Oliver snickered. “It’s not as if sensible people reads those articles and walk away believing them.”
“Exactly.” Wilson patted his pocket, jingling the rental car keys, and suggestively flashed his eyebrows. “How about we go back to the hotel, light one of those scented candles they have in the room, and see how much of your hair glitter we can get embedded in the pillow cases?”
* * * * *
The eastern sky was lightening as the early morning sun rose, and a glass cat figurine on the window ledge cast an eerie shadow across Neil and Albert’s shiny new Paris apartment. Well, it was new to them, although the Paris faction had owned the lovely old building under one business entity or another for more than a century.
They weren’t technically members of the Paris faction, but since Albert was now on the global council, which was based there, and Neil functioned as Albert’s assistant until he mastered the French language and could contribute more meaningfully, the Paris faction had responsibility for their lodging and future identity changes.
Neil closed the refrigerator door and handed a bag of blood to Albert. He shivered and smiled as Albert’s fangs descended with a click, then frowned when Albert’s phone rang, interrupting their morning ritual.
Albert retracted his fangs and glanced at the phone’s screen. He answered with a cheery, “Hello, how are you?”
As a relatively new vamp, Neil’s hearing was nowhere near the caliber of a more-than-two-thousand-year-old vamp like Albert, but it was still better than it had been as a human. So he couldn’t help but overhear the other side of the conversation, too.
“Good morning,” the caller said, equally upbeat, but with a serious undertone. “I wanted to draw your attention to an email I just sent you. You might want to examine it before today’s meeting.”
Short and to the point. Abbreviated and unspecific since phone calls were the least secure method of communication. But reading between the lines, Neil knew the email was encrypted and would be virtually shredded immediately after reading. Both actions were done with highly secure vampire proprietary software. The referenced meeting was the daily council meeting Albert would attend later that morning.
“Thank you. I’ll do that.” Albert clicked off and placed the phone back on the table. He retrieved his laptop, briefly and securely connected to the Internet, downloaded his email, then disconnected.
Neil stood aside as Albert decrypted and opened the email. As Albert’s assistant, Neil was instantly privy to most council business. With their gradually increasing super hearing, the vamps didn’t bother even trying to keep most of their business private. Not from each other. Information would have to be incredibly sensitive to be discussed only within the council’s secure chambers, and even then, it usually only meant a delay.
The vast majority of the worldwide vampire population were, at a minimum, decades old. Most could count their age in centuries. A few in millennia. Among the very few (if any) annual additions, if a candidate wasn’t judged to have a trustworthy character, they weren’t given the offer to join the ranks of the immortal vampires.
A slow grin spread across Albert’s face as he read. When he was done, he destroyed the email before turning to Neil.
“Your face,” Neil said. “You look like the proverbial kid in a candy shop.”
Albert chuckled. “You’ll never guess.”
Neil bounced on his toes and turned on his best imitation of puppy dog eyes. “Please just tell me. I don’t know. Anybody I can think of that y’all might’ve turned would be eliminated due to their fame.”
Albert’s smile widened. “The email wasn’t about a new recruit.”
Neil’s blood might run black now, but his heart still pumped, and it was racing in anticipation. “Have I mentioned that you’re a big tease?”
“Bigfoot shifters exist.”
Neil’s jaw dropped at the same time something clattered onto the floor in the apartment above them. Nothing could be said aloud in vamp apartment buildings without everyone knowing it.
Albert laughed and looked up. “Like that, Pierre?” Another snicker because Albert could hear what Neil couldn’t. Yet. “Nope, that wasn’t for your benefit.” And after another short pause, he added, “Cross my heart,” then turned back to Neil.
“Seriously?” Neil’s wide eyes no doubt broadcasted his own doubt.
“Why not? Is it so far fetched considering you now know vampires exist?”
“Other than the fact that vamps have existed for millennia and have apparently never encountered them before?”
“Ah, there is that. My theory, amor meus, is that we might’ve crossed paths in the old days before there was easy global communication, and anyone who knew has died out. Nowadays, vamps live only in large cities, and Bigfoot shifters reside in rural areas. Very rural, as in mountains, giant sequoias, cabins, and forests with thick layers of pine needles. They actually live mostly as humans in nearby towns, but hide out in the sticks when they’re due to shift.”
“Wow. Today’s council meeting is going to be far less routine that usual.” Neil grinned ear to ear as Albert picked the bag of blood back up.
“Definitely.” Albert waggled his eyebrows. “And we may never know, but I’d be curious to know what would happen if a shifter were turned by a vamp. Would they continue to shift? Would they be stuck in either human or shifted mode?”
“I wonder if combo creatures exist, sheltered and hidden by the shifter communities?”
All food for thought, but Neil’s brain short circuited when Albert’s fangs snicked out. He’d think about the Bigfoots later. Much later.